Shortly before members of Leicester Leicestershire and Rutlands’ Clinical Commissioning Groups (LLR CCGs) approved the plans this afternoon (Tuesday), at an Extraordinary Board Meeting this afternoon, there was a discussion over whether the St Mary’s Birth Centre had been promoted enough, as campaigners had claimed vehemently.
The CCG members heard that far fewer women had used the unit since the consultation was launched last October despite widespread publicity about it in the media.
Ian Scudamore, consultant obstetrician and clinical director women’s and children’s services at Leicester’s Hospitals, told the meeting: “Birth rates have actually fallen off a cliff at St Mary’s since the consultation started.
“There were fewer births there in the first six months of this year compared to the first six months of last year.”
The health authority say the baby unit needs to have 500 births a year to remain viable but it only had around 170 annually at present.
A senior midwife at the meeting said there was not a drive for Leicestershire women to want to travel to Melton, adding ‘St Mary’s is still seen as that unit out in the county which women are not interested in going to’.
Ironically, campaign groups insist that St Mary’s has never been promoted enough to encourage more women to use it.
When the Melton baby unit closes - and it is not expected to happen in the short term - a new standalone midwife-led unit will be opened at Leicester General Hospital.
Campaigners have voiced concern that this was only planned to be a short term trial and there was no guarantee it would be retained.
But Mr Scudamore told colleagues: “There have been some comments that it would only be for 12 months at the General but that is not the case.
“We would need to have 500 births a year for it to viable and that is not going to happen inside 12 months.
“It will need to be promoted and then we would then review it after two or three years which is long enough to assess whether it is sustainable as a service.”
For Melton women, after St Mary’s closes, they will have the option of going to the new midwife unit at the Leicester General or a new maternity hospital at the Leicester Royal Infirmary, which is one of the new services approved today.
Community nurses will still be available locally to give post and ante-natal care and a home birth team will be on hand for those women who don’t want to go to hospital.
The meeting was told that there was a trend for more home births across Leicestershire and Rutland since the onset of the pandemic.
Mr Scudamore told the meeting: “The safety and the principles of home births are exactly the same as they are in birthing units so there is absolutely no reason why women shouldn’t chose to have their baby in this way.”
He said consolidating maternity services in the city at fewer sites made sense from a clinical perspective since resources were currently being stretched across five different places.
The meeting was told that current staff at St Mary’s would be invaluable in setting up the new stanadalone midwife-led baby unit at the General and in helping to staff it.
Janet Underwood, chair of Healthwatch Rutland, a group which gives a voice to patients on healthcare services, said members of the CCGs should recognise the impact of their decision on the people who work at, and use, St Mary’s.
She told the meeting: “I understand the clinical argument and the viability reasons but I live five miles from Melton Mowbray and I’m fully aware of the level of opposition there has been there to the relocation of the baby unit services.
“Women who have used the birth centre have an emotional attachment to it.
“I would just ask you all to show some humanity and consider the views of Melton and Rutland women who use the centre and how they are feeling about this.”
The overall Leicester hospitals revamp agreed today will provide 139 more hospital beds and move all acute care - patients receiving treatment for severe injury or illness, urgent medical conditions and those recovering from surgery - to the Leicester Royal Infirmary and to Glenfield Hospital.
There will also be the new maternity hospital and the first single-site dedicated children’s hospital in the East Midlands at Leicester Royal Infirmary and the expanding of Glenfield Hospital by a third to create a planned care treatment centre for operations and emergency procedures.
Additionally, a new community health campus with non-acute services will be created on the site of Leicester General Hospital, including in-patient beds for patients recovering from a stroke, new GP direct access imaging facilities such as x-rays and scans to help diagnose conditions quicker, plus the retention of the existing diabetes centre of excellence.